Older buildings are adored for their unique architectural features, but they often lack the insulation and tightly sealed windows and doors of newer buildings. It is said that air leaking through cracks in an older building wastes as much energy as leaving one window completely open for the entire winter. (Also see "Insulation at Home Saves Money.")
But there are simple ways to improve your apartment's ability to withstand the cold, even if you aren't particularly handy.
The first step to winterizing is assessing your situation. This is as simple as walking around your apartment with a lighted candle. Hold it in front of closed windows, doors, vents, and even electrical outlets. If the light flickers, there is a draft; if it holds steady, the opening is well sealed. Once you find the leaks, it is easy and inexpensive to seal them up.
The easiest repair is for the drafty electrical outlets. Simply go to a home improvement or hardware store and purchase outlet insulation, which is a thin sheet of foam which gets sandwiched between the outlet cover and the wall, preventing drafts from blowing through.
Next you'll want to seal your windows. There are several ways to accomplish this:
Weatherstripping -- There are several types available, including rubber, high density foam, closed-cell PVC foam and open-cell foam. No matter which type you choose, you will install it between the sash and the frame, making sure it doesn't interfere with the opening and closing of the window. Before going to the store, measure the perimeter of all the windows needing weatherstripping in linear feet and purchase a little extra to allow for trimming. Easy installation instructions are included on all packages of weatherstripping.
Caulking -- To caulk around your windows you will need either traditional silicone caulk, applied with a caulking gun, or rope caulk, which is pressed into place with your fingers. Rope caulk is easier for beginners, but it is more noticeable when the job is finished. If air is leaking through the framework around the window opening, caulk can be use to seal the cracks.
Shrink film insulation -- This is the best option for super-drafty windows, but isn't the prettiest to look at. Each kit comes with double-stick tape which is applied around the perimeter of the window frame. Then you press a sheet of plastic film onto the double-stick tape to cover the window. Finally, you apply warm air with a blow-dryer to shrink the clear film for an airtight seal. Check the package before you buy; some are reusable and some are not.
Insulating drapes -- Drapes that have a thermal lining can reduce heating and cooling costs by 30 percent over windows that have no covering at all. The more layers of fabric and lining, the greater the insulation value.
Some of the same techniques used for sealing your windows can also be used to seal around your doors:
Weatherstripping -- In addition to high-density foam, closed-cell PVC foam, open-cell foam and rubber weatherstripping, the options for doors also include: spring tension weatherstripping (which gets adjusted with a screwdriver for maximum seal) and gasket weatherstripping, made of rubber or vinyl. The gaskets cushion as they seal and compensate for warping or irregularities in the door frame.
Caulking -- Options once again are silicone caulk, applied with a caulk gun, or rope caulk, pressed into place with your fingertips. This will seal air leakage around the door frame, rather than the door itself.
Door sweeps -- Door sweeps are used to provide a weatherproof seal at the bottom of the door. They can be made from aluminum, plastic, wood, vinyl or rubber. The rubber type is the most durable and effective in sealing the draft since it adjusts itself to fully seal the opening beneath the door.
Cat litter or sawdust -- It may sound weird, but for the lowest tech way to keep cold air from seeping in below your door is to fill spare tube socks with cat litter or saw dust, tie or sew it closed, and place it on the floor in front of the door once it has been closed. Use enough socks to stretch the entire width of the door. There is some inconvenience involved in having to move them every time you open the door, but it is an easy and effective way to stop drafts and also make good use of socks that have lost their mate.
Some other things to consider when winterizing your apartment:
Electric blankets -- Investing in an electric blanket allows you to remain comfortable and warm in bed while you turn down the thermostat for your entire apartment. Studies show that for every degree you turn down your thermostat for an eight-hour overnight period you save 1 to 2 percent on your energy bill. That doesn't sound like much, but if your turn down the thermostat 10 degrees, that suddenly turns into a 10 to 20 percent savings, and that is substantial.
Flannel sheets, blankets and faux fur bedding -- Flannel sheets and bedding are soft and warm to the touch, keeping you cozy and insulated against the cold air. Adding a throw of faux fur on top of your bedding further improves the insulation properties because cold air gets trapped between the fibers of the fur and flannel before it has a chance to get you cold.
Area rugs - If your apartment has wood floors, a fluffy area rig will warm it up in an instant. There are many styles and types of area rugs to choose from, including wool, cotton, silk, synthetics, and organics. (Also see AOL's "How to Choose Carpets That Camouflage or Inspire.")
Removing or covering an air conditioner -- If your apartment has a window air conditioner, you will either want to remove it, store it away for winter, and seal the window drafts using one of the methods described above, or apply an insulating blanket around the air conditioning unit to keep drafts from blowing through the vents. The waterproof, vinyl-backed fabric is wrapped around the outside of the unit and secured with elasticized straps. Additional weatherstripping may be needed to seal around the unit where it fits in the window opening.
Barbara Green is The Design Diva and owner of Sensibly Chic Interior Design. Follow on Twitter @thedesigndiva.
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